FC Barcelona reached the semi-finals of the Copa del Rey tonight after a thrilling 2-2 draw at Camp Nou. Two goals just before half time from Pedro Rodriguez and Dani Alves put Barça 4-1 ahead overall, but Madrid battled back with second half goals from Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema to leave us an extremely nervy last twenty minutes. Sergio Ramos was sent off for a second yellow near the end but it was a shame as despite some full-bloodied challenges the game was generally played in a fairer spirit than the first leg.
There were no surprises in Pep Guardiola’s team selection as we saw the same XI that won in the Bernabeu. Madrid, however, made several changes fielding a much more attacking 4-2-3-1 formation with the intention of pressing up as much as possible. We were almost caught out again straight from the kick off, Piqué was caught napping, inexplicably allowing the ball to run past him and letting Higuain in for a scoring chance after just ten seconds. Fortunately, I don’t think Higuain could believe his luck at getting the ball and he scuffed his shot wide of Pinto’s far post.
This was certainly not a good way to start for us and Madrid were encouraged. For the first five minutes were looked unsure of ourselves until we managed to string together our first series of passes. Once we began to settle it became clear that Alexis would be a threat to Madrid’s high line of defence. In the ninth minute Ramos was guilty of pulling back the Chilean but the referee failed to spot it, or maybe he just preferred not to take the difficult decision of deciding which colour card to show the Madrid defender.
However, Madrid continued to cause us problems. Kaka made a good run forward and when Piqué missed his tackle we were left exposed at the back, Kaka slipped the ball left to Ronaldo who fired in a similar shot to the one that beat Pinto last week but this time our keeper made the save. The game was very open and both teams were having occasions, Cesc got away on the left but his pass for Messi was just behind where it should have been and although Messi adjusted to control, he couldn’t find the target with his shot.
In the 18th minute Madrid had a minor shout for a penaly as the ball struck Busquets’ arm after Pepe flicked on a corner. There is definite contact but I really don’t think anybody could say there was any intent. Later there was a similar moment when Ramos’s attempted overhead kick flicked Eric Abidal’s hand but again there was no intent, if Abidal raised his arms it was clearly in self-defence with Ramos’s boot coming close to his face.
However, Madrid came extremely close to taking the lead midway through the first half. First Ozil, who had a very good match, delivered an extraordinary shot from all of 35 yards that hit the crossbar on the way to hitting the inside of the post before bouncing down on the goal-line and out. Then shortly after Pinto got in a mess with his feet, succeeding only in passing the ball straight to Higuian on the right of the penalty area, again we were fortunate when the Argentinian forward fired straight back allowing Pinto to save.
The first yellow card went to Lass in the 26th minute for a foul on Busquets but Ramos was let off again after another foul on Alexis. Then, so typically he was booked two minutes later for protesting after Ronaldo brought down Alves from behind. Iniesta had to go off after an Arboloa challenge and Pedro came on in his place. The game continued to be played at a terrific pace and there was one brilliant sequence of one touch passes which ended with Xavi sending Alexis into the area and this time it was Barça who appealed for a penalty as Pepe challenged Alexis.
As we approached half time we began to see Madrid resorting to the some of the unpleasant tactics of the first leg. Pepe was again guilty of overacting to try to get an opponent booked and then Sergio Ramos pathetically tried to get Messi booked by taking a quick free kick and deliberately kicking the ball at an opponent. There is quite a difference between a player stopping a quick free kick and a player deliberately trying to get a player booked for this. In all honesty I believe Ramos should have been booked again here for ungentlemanly conduct.
Messi had been relatively quiet so far but as in the first leg he was to play a decisive role. In the 43rd minute he took off through the middle, the defence were drawn towards him leaving space out wide, Messi mnanaged to find an impossible pass between Pepe and Arboloa to Pedro who was free on the left and his low shot gave Casillas no chance. Soon after the goal Messi was the next to go in the ref’s notebook after catching Pepe, but I don’t think there was any revenge going on here, just a foul despite Pepe rolling around like he’d been shot. Moments later there was the only really bad foul of the first half as Lass came across to take out Messi as he stormed down the left side. The referee blew for the foul but the fact that he failed to show Lass a second yellow was probably his worst call of a pretty poor night from the man in black. Xavi’s free kick hit Lass and the ball spun along the edge of the area to where Alves came running in to let fly with a magnificent shot that flew past Casillas like a bullet to enter right in the very top corner. The dance with Abidal to celebrate was again a joy.
I have to say I love it when our defenders score against Madrid as I have heard so many claims that we won’t dare to push defenders (and especially Alves) forward because we are so worried about Cristiano Ronaldo. Well, in the Bernabeu nobody was tracking back with Abidal and we took advantage while today it was Alves who got forward to score which I’d say should put an end to these suggestions.
Madrid didn’t deserve to go in two down at half time but they had failed to capitalize on their chances. However, they kept plugging away and perhaps we were a bit surprised at how much fight Madrid still showed despite the scoreline. Even when Ramos had a goal disallowed for pulling Alves’s arm they continued to keep searching for a goal. Barça seemed intent on just maintaining things as they were and with a three goal advantage perhaps this was somewhat normal. However, we were close to throwing the game and the tie away after allowing Madrid back into the game with two quick goals.
First Ozil was given too much space to find his pass through to Ronaldo who escaped from Puyol before dummying Pinto to score in the empty net. Just four minutes later, Piqué, who had a game he’d rather forget, gave a poor ball out of defence, the ball came back in for Benzema who neatly flicked the ball over Puyol before firing past Pinto.
The game became even more frenetic now. Ronaldo swung and missed the ball completely after Ozil’s dangerous cross while Barça had another penalty appeal for a foul by Pepe on Alexis turned down. As the game entered the last ten minutes we began to see more of Messi as Madrid had to take risks. He looked sure to score after a run in from the right but he shot narrowly wide, and then he just failed to find Piqué as he galloped forward. The last minutes were broken up by more fouls and yellow cards while Ramos was eventually given his marching orders after getting a second yellow for a raised elbow jumping with Busquets.
We managed not to live too dangerously in the last few minutes and fortunately for us the Madrid spent just as much time chasing after the refereee to complain as they did chasing our players. The final whistle came as a relief and we were left with the bizarre spectacle of Pepe, of all people, trying to question the mental capacity of somebody else (the ref in this case). As in the supercopa in August there were spells when we were clearly on the back foot tonight, Madrid came to give us a proper game and they showed that when they attack us they can cause us plenty of problems. It just goes to show we need to be at our very best to our old rivals and tonight we were a long way from our best. Madrid will no doubt complain about the referee and claim they deserved better but if you look at the two games as a whole I think Barça were the worthy winners. Madrid may have given us something to think about tonight but there was very little really between the sides tonight whereas at the Bernabeu last week the difference was enormous.
Barça: Pinto 6; Alves 7, Piqué 5, Puyol 7 Abidal 7; Xavi 7, Busquets 6.5, Iniesta 6 (Pedro m. 29, 6.5); Messi 7, Cesc 6 (Thiag0 m. 70, 6), Alexis 6.5 (Mascherano m. 79, –).
Madrid: Casillas; Arbeloa, Sergio Ramos, Pepe, Coentrão; Xabi Alonso, Lass (Granero, m. 52); Özil, Kaká (Callejón, m. 61), Cristiano Ronaldo; Higuaín (Benzema, m. 61).
Goals: m43 Pedro 1-0, m45+2 Alves 2-0, m68 Ronaldo 2-1, m72 Benzema 2-2
Yellow cards: m26 Lass, m33 Ramos, m43 Messi, m45 Casillas, m54 Ronaldo, m80 Coentrao, m88 Ramos (2nd = red), m89 Granero, m91 Puyol, m92 Pepe.